Re: Jn.1:1b word order

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Feb 10 1998 - 06:24:28 EST

Nichael Lynn Cramer wrote:

<In this context we might recall Luther's dictum that in this verse "the
<lack of an article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against

Dear Nichael and others,

I have a particularly busy teaching schedule this semester and will not
contribute much to b-greek, but the quote above tempted me to make some
comments. We must remember that the trinitarian controversies were
nonexistent in the days of John. He chose his words and their order to
convey his message inside the setting of Jewish monotheism and
first-century christianity. John`s choice of the predicate nominative
before the verb and his anarthrous QEOS certainly signals his meaning, but
because of the distance in time between us and John and our different
presupposition pool, this signal is in our days no longer unambiguous. So
the words or grammar of John 1:1 neither exclude the view that Jesus is
eternal God nor that he is the first creature of God!

A schematic review of earlier discussions:

(1)The words KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS can be translated "correctly" at least
in three ways: (A) "and the Word was God", (B) "and the Word was divine",
and (C) "and the word was a god". None of these violate any grammatical or
syntactical rule.

(2) The words hOUTOS HN EN ARCHi PROS TON QEON makes (A) very problematic
because the most natural interpretation of the English words is that "the
Word" and "God" are convertible terms, and this clashes with the
preposition PROS. One individual who is PROS another individual can hardly
be identical with this individual.

(3) What about (B)? Paul Dixon did a very good job with his thesis where
he showed that Colewell`s rule cannot be applied to John 1:1 and where he
made a strong case for a qualitative interpretation of the anarthrous QEOS.
However, if I understand Paul correctly, we agree that even if John wanted
to stress the quality (divinity) of the LOGOS, still LOGOS is a substantive
and as such he is also either "a god" or "God". (I am not aware of any
example where a count noun signifying a person, or other count nouns for
that matter, turns into an adjective and looses its substantival force
because of word order.)

This means that the ultimate criterion for the understanding and
translation of John 1:1 is neither lexicon, nor grammar nor syntax, but
something which is extralingusitic, namely the context. The portrayal of
Jesus in the gospel of John and elswhere in the NT is what is important. So
word order and the article or the lack of it should be scrutinized and
discussed, but what really is decisive for the translation of this verse it
theology rather than language.


Rolf Furuli
Univerity of Oslo

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